In Florida Thursday afternoon, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney sketched out his immigration agenda in a speech to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
The conference is often billed as “the Latino political convention.”
Romney has been under pressure to spell out his Latino agenda since President Barack Obama last Friday announced his administration would halt the deportation of some young undocumented immigrants. Obama himself will address the conference on Friday.
In the Republican primary, Romney staked out hardline positions on immigration, such as promising to veto the Dream Act, legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants — the same ones who will benefit under Obama's new initiative.
But at the conference, Romney struck a softer tone. He vowed to work to improve the lives of immigrants and their families, reform immigration policy, and still discourage people from coming to the United States illegally.
"We can find common ground here, and we must. We owe it to ourselves as Americans to ensure that our country remains a land of opportunity – both for those who were born here and for those who share our values, respect our laws, and want to come to our shores," he said, according to The new York Times.
A new poll shows a tight race between Obama and Romney in Florida, but Obama has a solid, 10-point lead among Latinos in the important swing state.
Justin Sink, a reporter for The Hill, said he was most surprised by an offer Romney made to hand out green cards, legal immigrant status, to any college diploma earned by someone who grew up as an illegal immigrant in the United States.
"That's a real reversal from what he said in the Republican Primary," Sink said. "He very explicitly said that he didn't support a plan to tie legal status to achieving a college degree."
Interestingly, though, Romney wouldn't say whether he would support and continue the Obama administration policy of not deporting young illegal immigrants who are in college or have finished college and were brought to this country by their parents.
"The fact that he wouldn't say, if Congress isn't able to achieve a long-term legislative solution, whether he would uphold the president's policy, is going to be a sticking point for a lot of voters," Sink said.
All of this comes very close to the provisions spelled out in the DREAM Act, though what Republicans are proposing stops short in some areas.
This shift in Romney's position, Sink said, is in recognition of the lift Obama got, not just among Hispanic voters, in announcing his new policy on deportations.